As part of a class project I’ve been reading the Online-News mailing list and responding to some of the issues and discussion brought up there.
A huge thread which began last week on the 15th but I didn’t read until now is about what kind of standards sites are using in their code. The original poster is trying to use XHTML and CSS, but noticed that no other news sites he looked at validated as XHTML. His question was why. A few ideas came up-if you use CSS for page layout, anyone using an older browser will lose all of your layout and most likely just see a bunch of text. Someone else pointed out that this could actually be a good thing-users with disabilities, for example, who surf the web with text-reading software, won’t see your layout anyway and a bunch of text is more useful for them. Ditto for Palm users and people surfing on tiny displays.
I think the real reason people aren’t using valid XHTML and CSS is that it’s a lot of work to set up and get working exactly right. Most places are not putting money into things like that, they’re laying people off and hiring people who will do data-entry type tasks on the cheap as opposed to building a system. Plus a lot of places spent tons of money on their current systems just 3 or 4 years ago.
Another issue brought up was standards for delivering streaming video. One poster recommended using Flash, which is something I read somewhere else before, and it does sound like a great idea. Flash can serve mp4 video, doesn’t pop up with ads or offers for a pro version like RealPlayer and QuickTime, and is already installed in most browsers. A lot of posters in the group are not big Flash fans, because it’s a semi-closed proprietary standard, but there doesn’t seem to be a better alternative to streaming video over the web. One poster offered a few places where Flash was just about the only tool that could do what the site designers wanted it to do, but one in particular (http://www.msnbc.com/modules/yip02/) made some posters scoff.
Also, no matter what standard you decide on using, there’s some browser that doesn’t work the same way the others work. And standards constantly change. The question came down to how much should content be separated from presentation (so that different presentations are available for different devices), and how much should presentation be standardized (so that the same presentation will work to some degree on different devices)? There was an interesting article here: http://www.adaptivepath.com/publications/essays/archives/000266.php.